An Overview of the Nutritional Role of Eggs in the Diet
Report prepared by:
Michelle Walsh, Dr. Áine Hearty, Dr. Anne Nugent
UCD Institute of Food & Health, September 2009
An Overview of the Nutritional Role of Eggs in the Diet was carried out by researchers at the UCD Institute of Food and Health in September 2009. It examines leading international research carried out over the past six years on the role of eggs in the diet. The report concludes that scientific evidence on the link between eating eggs and health shows that eggs are a very valuable, nutrient dense and low-cost food that are a source of high quality protein and micronutrients. It also concludes eating eggs as part of a healthy balanced diet does not significantly raise blood cholesterol levels.
Commenting on the report, Dr Aine Hearty from the UCD Food and Drink Institute said, “The importance of including eggs as part of a healthy balanced diet is something everyone should be aware of. Based on recent scientific research it has become evident that the link between egg intake and blood cholesterol levels is weak, thus strengthening the value that eggs can offer in the modern Irish diet”.
The main findings of the report are that:
• The protein found in eggs is considered ideal for humans and is the one by which all others are measured
• The egg is a nutrient dense food and is low in fat and calories One egg contains approximately 10% of our daily protein, folate and iron requirements, while contributes to only 3% of our calorie intake
• Egg consumption in Ireland is low when compared to consumption in other countries. On average, people in Ireland consume about 3-4 eggs a week while many other European countries eat twice that amount. However, studies carried out by a number of Irish universities between 2003-2006 (IUNA) revealed that egg consumption is quite low in children and teenagers in Ireland, with just over 40% of these groups consuming eggs (compared to almost 70% of adults). In particular, teenage girls were found to be very low consumers of eggs, with average intakes of only 6g/day (equates to less than 1 egg per week).
• Health promotion departments around the world have relaxed their guidelines on restricting eggs in the diet with many completely lifting the restriction. In Ireland the general guideline is ‘an egg a day is ok’ or seven eggs a week as part of a healthy balanced diet.
• Eggs are a low-cost valuable contributor to the overall nutritional balance of the diet and could play a far greater role in the diets of growing children, adolescents, pregnant and breast-feeding women, low-income families and those on a weight-loss diet in Ireland
“This report shows that eggs are a very valuable food and the fact that they are low in cost and so easy to cook makes them a great food to include as a regular part of everyone’s diet”, said Teresa Brophy, Ireland manager at Bord Bia. “ The report gives many great reasons why we should eat more eggs and we hope people will start by celebrating World Egg Day with an egg and enjoy cooking some of many recipes on www.eggs.ie”.
For further information Breda Keena from Irish Egg Marketing on 087 6483134 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary of Recommendations
The UCD report looks at the role of eggs in the human lifecycle and makes the following recommendations:
• Infants – egg yolks are an excellent weaning food and a study carried out in 2002 found that four eggs yolks a week is advisable for weaning infants as they are an especially good source of iron and other essential nutrients²
• Childhood and adolescence – eggs provide essential nutrients for growth and development and a greater inclusion of eggs in the diet would help meet the additional nutritional requirement during this stage of life. They are a particularly important food for breakfast especially amongst older children and adolescents where intake of nutrients for breakfast influences performance at school. Studies on food intake in Ireland show that children and adolescents here have low consumption levels of eggs ³
• Adults – eggs are an extremely valuable food for those on a weight loss diet because they are low in calories and high in nutrients. Research shows that an egg based breakfast keeps you feeling fuller for longer and cuts down on the need for snacking. A number of studies have found that eating eggs as a regular part of a weight-loss diet is very effective⁴.
• Pregnant and breast-feeding women – eggs are a significant source of high value protein and most vitamins and minerals. Eggs can play an important role in meeting the additional nutritional requirements of mother and baby during this time.
• Elderly – eggs are highly recommended for elderly people as they are cheap, convenient and easy to cook in a large variety of ways. Studies have found they are could help prevent age-related eye problems or macular degeneration in the elderly⁵.
The UCD report found that extensive research has failed to find an explicit link between eating eggs and coronary heart disease. The studies that found this link in the past failed to take account of the confounding effect of a having high intakes of saturated fat and low intakes of fruits, grains and vegetables in the diet. When these factors were included in the studies they found that saturated fat from other food sources is the culprit and not eggs. A study carried out in the UK this year concluded that numerous studies undertaken in the last 30 years provide no consistent evidence that egg consumption has an independent association with risk of heart disease⁶. However the researchers at UCD cautioned that eggs should be eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet and that while eggs on their own are an excellent food, we should watch how we cook them and to limit the amount of added fat during cooking and in the foods they are served with.
1 (Surai & Sparks 2001)
2 (Macrides et al 2002)
3 (Affenito 2007)
4 (Radcliffe et al 2008) and (Vander Wal et al 2005)
5 (Chung et al 2004)
6 (Gray and Griffin, 2009)